Certified motorcycle footwear isn’t only vital on the track or long rides, but also (and above all) in the city. That is to say, it’s vital on those routes where, statistically, accidents that can put the foot and its joints at risk are more likely, including everyday accidents. It’s important to understand that you don’t need to fall to injure your feet or ankles, if you don’t use proper protection. Just think of all the times we put our feet on the ground, at every stop, intersection or traffic light, without taking the care we should. It only takes a moment’s distraction to regret doing without the right footwear, even without falling.
Today, there are all kinds of footwear that combine the need for comfort with style and safety requirements, making a short motorcycle or scooter trip possible without worrying about comfort or practicality, both to get to work and in your leisure time. Whether you’re getting around the city or taking a Sunday ride in the hills, you can always find the right shoe, from the most understated sneaker to sporty high-tops, also ideal for the most demanding trips.
Isn’t it enough to be wearing a tall ankle boot, or combats, to be protected from an accident or just a skid? The answer is No – technical motorcycle shoes, unlike any casual shoe or boot, are PPE, personal protective equipment, and as such are governed by a European reference standard, in this case EN 13634:2017.
Motorcycle footwear falls under Category 2 PPE, medium-risk products. Category 1 PPE means low-risk products that don’t require certification, like gardening gloves, while Category 3 products are high-risk products, like firefighter’s boots.
Certified footwear has to pass a series of laboratory tests covering, among other things, impact abrasion, impact cutting, transverse rigidity, sole delamination, and abrasion resistance of inner lining. The certifying body literally takes the footwear apart so the tests can be carried out on the individual components and materials.
The impact abrasion test simulates the abrasion of footwear on asphalt and involves a sample of upper material, or a composition of materials (e.g., outer microfiber, reinforcing middle layer, and inner lining), being placed in contact with a strip of 60-grit sandpaper moving at a speed of 8 m/s and tested for deterioration. To achieve level 1 certification, the sample has to last at least 5 seconds; for level 2, 12 seconds.
For the transverse rigidity test, the shoe or boot is placed under a press, which attempts to crush it transversely, effectively measuring the sole’s resistance to deformation when a load is applied to it.
The impact cut test involves dropping a blade onto the sample (which always simulates the finished product, so it’s a composition of materials) at a speed of 2.8 m/s, checking the depth to which it penetrates in mm. No more than 25 mm for level 1 certification, no more than 15 for level 2.
The sole abrasion test works in a similar way to the impact abrasion test – a sample of the sole is put in contact with a rough, moving surface to test its resistance to prolonged abrasion on asphalt.
The Martindale abrasion test, on the other hand, tests the resistance of the inner lining. It therefore simulates wear from rubbing against the foot or sock in prolonged use. The test simulates wear comparable to about 25,600 cycles.
To obtain certification, the delamination of sole from upper test is carried out, to verify the bonding force between the various parts and how much force is needed to literally rip the sole off the rest of the shoe.
Depending on the outcome of the tests, motorcycle shoes will succeed or fail to obtain certification, and an indication of the level of protection. The shoes that make the grade have a symbol on the lower part of the tongue to identify them as certified. It indicates the reference standard and the final level, which will be type 1 or 2 depending on their protective capacity. So ones with type 2 certification will be more protective than those with type 1 certification.
There are four different numbers on the label – the first number indicates the height of the upper, the second indicates the impact abrasion level, the third the impact cutting, and the fourth the transverse rigidity. These four tests give the best idea of the footwear’s protective capacity.
It should be noted that not every shoe or boot is necessarily all Level 1 or all Level 2 – each test is evaluated individually. Leaving the upper height assessment aside, you might have, for example, a shoe that obtains Level 2 in the impact abrasion and impact cut tests, but only Level 1 in the transverse rigidity test. It’s all easy to understand if you read the label.
What the label doesn’t account for is the active safety that a shoe or boot provides. On some footwear in particular, like more advanced track boots such as Dainese Axial D1, the overall lightness and freedom of movement can lead to a higher level of overall safety than simply protection and resistance to impact and cuts. The reason is simple, but it’s an important factor. The freedom of the joint and perfect command of bike controls in those specific contexts make accidents or dangerous situations less likely. That’s precisely what we mean by active safety, a protector’s ability to limit the chance of an accident occurring.
Taking the Axial D1 boot worn by professional MotoGP™ riders as an example once again, it’s a good idea to explain why it ‘only’ achieves Level 1 certification in some of the tests carried out, like the impact abrasion and impact cut tests. As we said, these tests examine a sample of the upper on the finished product. In the case of the Axial D1, however, the rigid, highly protective carbon fiber structure in the upper itself is not assessed. It’s easy to see how, all things considered, this kind of boot can offer a level of protection that’s hard to match.
Whether you prefer technical shoes or boots, chosen according to how you use your bike, paying attention to what you wear is essential. And that’s also true for feet and ankles, which are often overlooked when it comes to protection. Certified footwear can really make a difference, and not only in terms of safety, but also in terms of confidence with the controls and overall control of the vehicle.